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Triangle Recommends More Time for Public Vetting, Favors Plan for New School, Partial IMS Rebuild

Known as "Option 1b", the public opinion firm recommended building a new elementary school on the "Megablock" campus and rebuilding part of Islander Middle School, at an approximate cost of $70.3 million.

A Mercer Island School District opinion research report released on Thursday recommended plans to build a new school and enlarging a second one as having the best chance of success with local voters to alleviate overcrowding in Island schools.

Opinon research firm Triangle Associates, Inc. presented residents several options over the past six weeks in a public comment process and, based on community feedback, ultimately recommended choosing "Option 1b": a new elementary school on the "Mega Block" (at the so-called "North Mercer Campus", a 6 acre area currently occupied by the CHILD Institute, Youth Theatre Northwest and several preschools), rebuilding part of Islander Middle School, and building a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) addition onto Mercer Island High School at an approximate cost of $70.3 million.

Triangle was careful to qualify its support for the proposal, however, by urging the school district to continue the public outreach process that it had begun.

"For the strongest chance of success, the process (needs to) slow down to enable continued community outreach," the report said.

The report said that if the School Board felt they must ask local voters to pass a bond by 2013, that "thoughtful and robust" communication efforts should continue and that the choices should be further narrowed to two options, rather than immediately moving ahead. It also recommended the overall cost of any plan should be in the range of $50 to $75 million, and the proposal should be "as simple as possible."

"Quickly moving forward with a bond measure at this point in time comes with serious risk and is not something that Triangle recommends," read the report. "The Board’s making a decision at this time would bring significant negative perceptions for a few reasons: residual mistrust over perceived past property management (e.g. partnering with the Boys and Girls Club of King County on the PEAK facility and selling the land now housing the Community Center some thirty years ago), concern over traffic impacts around the Mega-Block, community desire to see a long-term facilities plan, lack of understanding about 21st century education facilities, etc. These factors point to the need to develop additional information and responses to questions that have been raised, and to continue outreach and dialogue with the community and City leaders."

The recommendation would also add an additional $450,000 per year operating expenses of the sixth school until enrollment is high enough for those costs to be offset by state and levy funding.

Triangle also recommended including Mary Wayte Pool and Islander Stadium as a proposition, but as a separate issue and perhaps at a later time in an effort to distinguish repairs, maintenance and improvements to those facilities as seperate from the overcrowding issue.

The school district is currently 723 students above design capacity with a 2012-2013 school year enrollment of 4,270 —  and the population of school-aged children on the Island is projected to continue increasing over the next ten years. School district enrollment is expected to hit a 35-year high of over 4,300 students by 2014, according to a recent demographic study released last month conducted by an MISD consultant.

The recommendation is in stark contrast to an ambitious recommendation made last fall by a panel of citizens, called the 21st Century Facilities Planning Commission (21CFPC), which suggested the best solution to overcrowded schools was rebuilding the three elementary schools and middle school as modern, two-story buildings that would support the MISD's "2020 Vision", a forward-leaning education curriculum to best equip local students for opportunities here and abroad. The recommendation was largely adopted by the MISD and ultimately priced at $196 million and ultimately failed in the April 2012 special election, garnering only 41 percent of the vote.

For more on the study, review the entire report attched as a .pdf file to the right of this story.

SickOfTheMIOldFarts December 07, 2012 at 02:46 AM
Huh? People should read the report for themselves because your headline is completely misleading. Triangle, in fact, did NOT recommend going forward with any of the bond options. They said if they were forced to make a decision that option 1b is the best of the worst, but that they recommended in slowing down the process. Way to go for the sensational headline (again) Kendall.
Rita Moore December 07, 2012 at 06:57 AM
After reading the Triangle report i have to agree with the previous commenter that Triangle did not recommend option 1b. It recommended continuing to work with the community and slow down the process. Personally I would like to see a long term plan in place before we vote on a bond issue. Also since it has been several years since our son graduates from MIHS, I have no idea what STEM is or its impact on our high school facilities.
Jon H December 07, 2012 at 07:43 AM
The plan spelled out by the bond earlier this year was the correct direction. They just wanted to do it in one shot. How about a new bond that proposes to fix one elementary? It would at least be a start and be under $50MM. Also, it would make the case that the plan in the original bond was correct, but just needed to be divided up to take away some of the sticker shock.
Kendall Watson December 07, 2012 at 05:25 PM
Hi SickOfTheMIOldFarts & Rita Moore, The criticism of the headline is fair, and could have been better, but I disagree with your reading of the report, and stand by the accuracy of the story. Nowhere in the story does it say that the report recommends "moving forward". I only focused on the "recommendation" it offered of all the options considered in the public process. It is not accurate to state that the report "did not recommend option 1b". If that was true, then why do they first introduce their "recommendation", and then offer the caveats afterwards (i.e. don't move forward with a bond yet; give the public process/discussion more time)? The structure of the story follows the same sequence as the report's executive summary, and reports on the same. The report is attached to this story, so readers are free to parse this.
SickOfTheMIOldFarts December 08, 2012 at 12:02 AM
Again, I don't know how you can justify a headline that reads: "Triangle Recommends New Elementary School, Partial IMS Rebuild to Solve Overcrowding" When the report clearly states: "Quickly moving forward with a bond measure at this point in time comes with serious risk and is not something that Triangle recommends," So I'm baffled whether the Patch is in the business of reporting on news or influencing readers perception of it.
Kendall Watson December 08, 2012 at 12:33 AM
Again, where does it say in the story that they recommend moving forward on a bond? I agree that the headline isn't conveying the whole picture here. I'll try something more complete. RE your comments on impartial news reporting: Mercer Island Patch is guided by principles outlined in the SPJ Code of Ethics. As editor, I've been a proud member of this association since 2006. If you have a question about our editorial voice, feel free to check my work based on these guiding principles. I'm also pretty transparent about my goals and editorial voice in my Patch bio. Feel free to address your concerns to me directly at Kendall.Watson@Patch.com. You mentioned there are other instances of "sensational" headlines. I would be happy to explain to you why I wrote the headline I wrote. Thanks again for your comments.
Kendall Watson December 08, 2012 at 01:02 AM
Headline updated for accuracy. What do you think?
Thomas Imrich December 08, 2012 at 01:04 AM
Triangle seems to be doing a sincere and credible job. The Board and MISD now appear to be truly listening to the broader community, and vetting reasonable options responsibly. The option for a new elementary school at the north end, and a requirements validated remodel of IMS, that is now being proposed, seems entirely reasonable, and seems well based. It is now time for the City to also start providing the needed traffic planning and other support for the District's evolving plan, and for the community to "move on" to supporting the Board and District's next steps, to implement this plan, for the timely benefit of both our students, and community. Kendall's comments are well stated.
SickOfTheMIOldFarts December 08, 2012 at 06:52 AM
Much better headline!
Greg Steinhauer December 08, 2012 at 04:08 PM
As a member of the 21st CFPC who studied this issue for over a year I will go on record as stating this is absolutely the WRONG direction to go. 1. IMS is functionally and structurally obsolete and spending tens of millions of dollars to remodel is a complete waste of money. It is Deja Vu all over again, extend and pretend rather than building our students a State of the Art, First class Facility that will last 50 years. 2. Building a new Elementary School on the Mega Block might be ok but should not be done without a complete land and facilities plan for the School District. Locating the School here without context and thoughts of future development runs the high risk of precluding the proper use of the entire campus in the future. Additionally, given all the traffic issues PEAK ran into from the neighborhood, i think this is politically untenable and a source of long delays. This is one of the major reasons many in the group advocated rebuilding on the existing sites. 3. Finally, this community needs to wake up. Our school facilities are being left in the dust by Bellevue, Issaquah, Kirkland, Renton etc. We have become like the Seattle Mariners and still living off the 1995 Season, we do it by referring to test scores. The tipping point is here and many families are choosing other school districts or private schools. This community has lost its desire for Excellence and to be at the Forefront. We are now a community that is willing to settle for "Good Enough"
Robert T. Brown December 08, 2012 at 11:57 PM
In response to some of the above comments that said that Triangle did not recommend the 4th elementary and partial IMS rebuild, the report states: "Option 1b received the most support of all the options presented.". Triangle based its current recommendation on what it thinks would have the best success at a bond measure. In other words, Options 2 and 3 would not pass at this time. On page 18 of the report, Phase 5 includes "School Board Decision and Implementation" from now until April of 2013. It appears that Triangle implies that an "information campaign" could convince the community of one option over another between now and the bond election.
Thomas Imrich December 09, 2012 at 02:08 AM
@ Mr. Steinhauer, ....at what point do buildings have a first order effect on improving "test scores"? What does it matter what Bellevue or Renton do, if it is our MI children who need the education, and our children compete against students globally, from Toulouse to Tianjin??? What do you believe the MI citizens were telling the 21st CFPC when they voted overwhelmingly to defeat the last 21st CFPC plan? This community has woken up, and thankfully both the Board and MISD appear now to be listening to the broader community, and as a result, we will now likely get a better plan, that is both educationally sound, and fiscally responsible.
Greg Steinhauer December 09, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Mr. Imrich-This is where we fundamentally disagree. I would argue that the prism through which you and a large group of voters currently view the School system is not a recipe for High Achievement and Excellence but mediocrity. On a final note, if First Class physically facilities were not important and critical to the mission then large corporations like Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, and Google and University's like UW, and WSU would not be spending billions of dollars on their campuses.
Thomas Imrich December 09, 2012 at 08:11 PM
@ Mr. Steinhauer. You are quite correct that it is in fact a large group of voters on MI who deeply care about real and quality education, and the key role played by science, math, history, and language. It is for that very reason, that they do care, that many voted NO on the last levy. Those voters clearly recognized the fallacy of the last bond plan. Instead they are aware that true education comes first and foremost from excellent teachers, curriculum, parents, student effort, and homework, ....and not primarily from unnecessary expenditures on tearing down facilities with significant useful life remaining, to just rebuild attractive new buildings. It is also noteworthy that some of the best courses at the world's top universities have been successfully taught in some of their oldest and least capable classrooms. Nonetheless, I do concur that now is the time for citizens to be expressing their views on the proposals at hand. But after having recently considered a wide range of reasonable options, the District now appears to be on a path to assure quality education for MI students with fiscal prudence. In that spirit, the still evolving but widely vetted plan will now likely be broadly supported by our community, in the next levy vote.
Trevor Hart December 09, 2012 at 10:23 PM
Regardless of the above comments and opinions, I would like to clarify what Option 1b. as it has been labled, continues to be ambigeous as to it's scope. The Options, including what has been termed Option 1b., were created by Triangle Assoc. for their Straw Poll vote published on their website. They directed the voter to review the options previously published by the District in their NEWS letter to get a better understanding of what each option included. For convenience, Triangle created a direct link to the NEWS letter. The first Option, "School Six is a new K-5 Elementary School" now being referred to as Option 1, actually has 5 add-ons components to the proposed school with the second of these add-ons, IMS Renovation options, having 3 sub-options ranging from classrooms only at $7.1M to a new IMS at $70.5M. Triangles Option 1b. is a Hybrid option. It assumes that the $6.7M MIHS STEM addition is inseperable from building the new elementary school for $30.4M and the "b." portion add to Option 1, is the $33.2M investment at IMS for classrooms and enhanced support space. This $33.2M is only broken out in earlier analysis and not in the option put forth in the District NEWS letter, Volume 14 Issue #1, Fall 2012. I don't believe this was intentional, however, Option 1b. should not automatically assume the STEM build-out.
Thomas Imrich December 09, 2012 at 11:01 PM
Excellent comment by Mr. Hart. That is why in its present form, the information currently being provided should be viewed as a first important step in evolving the material needed to produce a credible and widely community supported specific plan. The next steps will need to actually formulate that plan, hopefully along the lines that Mr. Hart suggests.
SickOfTheMIOldFarts December 09, 2012 at 11:31 PM
Ah, but here's the unspeakable truth--Mercer Island's "dirty little secret." Mercer Island test scores are high - not because of good teaching or "good schools" and obviously not because of our absurdly outdated school buildings. They test well because their well-educated, involved parents augment their schooling with tutors (over half of MI high school students use private tutors for math alone), SAT Prep Courses (almost all MIHS kids take one), family trips to the world's historical centers, state-of-the-art technology at home, their own personal time helping them learn, and by building extracurricular learning activities into their schedule every day. Mercer Island kids are going to test high if you house them in a cardboard box and give their parents a list of the things they need to learn. These "great" schools of ours don't have the science, technology, design, or math curriculum or spaces to make a generation of our next leaders. What they have are parents who they themselves are great scientists, technologists, designers and mathematicians and who have the means and incentive to create that in their children. Bellevue's test score are right there with ours--but they're getting those results with a much more socio-economically and ethnically diverse population of kids. Just think what our kids would do if they had the state-of-the-art facilities and offerings that our neighbors are providing.
Trevor Hart December 10, 2012 at 01:51 AM
I'm glad people like Tom are out there, paying attention, and realy putting out the effort to understand just what "is".............is.

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